Japan: Women vs Men

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                           Style of Play: Japanese Women vs. Japanese Men

By: Dan Summers

People have long debated the differences in playing styles between men’s national teams and women’s national teams. The men’s game has long dominated the world stage, while the women’s game is just beginning its ascent in popularity. The 2015 Women’s World Cup should be an excellent example of just how popular the women’s game has become. There are some well known and accepted differences between the men’s and women’s game. For instance:

– Women soccer players fall down for injuries far less often than men do.

– The women’s game is less explosive, but more pure than the men’s game.

– The women’s game is played at its own style and speed.

– The women’s game is much smoother than the men’s game. This is likely due to the fact that women do not fall down nearly as much as the men do.

Anson Dorrance, coach of the women’s soccer team for the University of North Carolina, stated “after the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, referees who were accustomed to the men’s game reported being more fatigued after reffing women’s games.” He added, “women play the game with greater integrity and honor”. (2)

Daryl Rosenbaum investigated injuries in both the men’s and women’s games. He studied 89 men’s games from four different tournaments. He noted a total of 980 injuries. That is an average of over 11 injuries per game. He then analyzed which of those injuries were real, noting that only 7% could be defined as “definite injuries”. He defined a “definite injury” as either definite bleeding or withdrawal from the game.(2) To contrast, he analyzed 47 women’s games from 2 different tournaments. He noted less than six injuries per game and that 14% of the time the injuries were definite injuries. (2) Thus, every-time a female soccer player went down, she was twice as likely to be actually injured than her male counterpart.

The Japanese women’s national football team is one of the best in the world. They are the defending World Cup champions, Asian Cup champions and Olympic silver medalists. They are currently ranked 4th in the world. They rely on teamwork, short passing and technical excellence. Their roster boasts very few headlines names, instead, they rely on partnership and unity. Despite often being physically inferior to their opponents, few teams can match Japan’s resilience and commitment.

The Japanese women deploy the world famous “Tiki-Taka” tactical system. This system was made famous by the Spanish national team and FC Barcelona. This system was devised to help skillful teams cope with physically dominant opponents. Many proponents believe that this system is the next evolutionary step for soccer. Japan’s manager, Norio Sasaki, was the mastermind behind this transition. He realized that this tactical system was the only way his national team was going to join the world’s elite. Japan’s starting 11 has an average height of just under 5-foot-4. This includes their goalkeeper, Miho Fukomoto, who (at 5-foot-4) is the shortest goalkeeper ever to participate in a major footballing tournament. In comparison, the USA averages just over 5-foot-7. Star USA striker Abby Wambach (5-foot-11) towers over Japan’s backline.  She’s got at least seven inches on three of Japan’s four defenders. (1)

This tactical system relies heavily on the midfield. The midfielders must always be willing to backtrack and help aid the defense. They look to limit the oppositions wing players and their crosses. This nullifies any height advantage any team may have on Japan. When Japan are in possession, they counterattack with overwhelming speed, but their need for defensive solidity means that they don’t get forward in numbers very often. They rely on quick, accurate passing to try to exploit defensive errors from open play, but they’re at their most deadly from dead ball situations. They use darting runs and constant movement to get open on set pieces. (1)

Here is a video that analyzes the Tiki Taka system deployed by Barcelona:

The Japanese men’s national football team has also been very successful. They are currently ranked 50th in the world, have participated in the last five World Cups and have won the Asian Cup three out of the past five times. Interestingly, they deploy a very similar system to the Japanese women’s national team. Their roster does not boast the headline names that some of the teams in Europe do, so, they rely on cohesion and skill. Furthermore, what they lack in physical ability, they make up for in commitment and effort.

During the 2014 World Cup, the Japanese men’s national football team deployed a lineup that consisted of  one forward, five midfielders and four defenders. Much like their women’s national team, the men rely very heavily upon the midfield to boss the game. In particular, their two stars in midfield, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, must really shine if Japan is going to have success. Using tactical superiority and short passing, the men’s team looked to control the possession of the game. They ranked 3rd in the World Cup in possession, averaging 59% possession per game. Furthermore, they ranked 10th in the tournament in pass success percentage at 83.1%. This emphasizes the fact that the team is set up to play quick and easy passes, resulting in a higher pass completion percentage. Furthermore, the team ranked 21st in dribbles per game. This statistic is quite telling because it shows that the team is not set up for lots of dribbling, instead, they get the ball up the field with quick passing. (3)

Conclusion: The Japanese men’s national team and the Japanese women’s national team play very similar styles of soccer. They both look to dominate possession, complete a very higher percentage of their passes, and use tactical superiority to combat their opponents physical advantage. Both of these teams deploy lineups that lack the physical stature and speed that teams in North America, South America, Europe and Africa possess. Unsurprisingly, Japanese managers have realized that their only chance for success is to beat them with skill. Both of these teams have had success on the global stage deploying these tactics and I would expect that to continue as Japan will continue to churn out technically sound footballers. In comparison to the men’s and women’s difference in general, it appears that the Japanese men’s and women’s teams show the same differences that other men’s and women’s national teams do. The men tend to fake injury a bit more, while the women tend to play at a little bit slower pace and focus on the technical aspects a bit more.

(1) http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-nadeshiko-revolution-japans-womens-soccer-team-plays-tiki-taka-without-the-tedium/

(2) http://news.discovery.com/adventure/extreme-sports/womens-soccer-sports-110713.htm

(3) http://www.whoscored.com/Regions/247/Tournaments/36/Seasons/3768/Stages/10274/TeamStatistics/International-FIFA-World-Cup-2014

One thought on “Japan: Women vs Men

  1. donovan

    This is one of the best analyses of why Japanese football has risen over the past 20 yrs. As in industry where they asked which industry would give them the most advantages. The Japanese have done the same in football. This strategic thinking is the big difference between Japanese and Jamaican football. In 1998 both nations were first timers at the world cup neither team made it out the group stage. However, Jamaica did win their match against Japan . Since then the football of both nations have gone in complete opposite directions. Jamaican football fell off a cliff to total disaster; whilst Japanese football would go to conquer the world! In the same twenty years that Japanese football took off ,Jamaica would study the Americans and become world beaters in track &field. However, why is it that the successful principles learned from track & field could not be applied to develop their football?

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